Why firms must be aware of the law around flexi-working requests post-pandemic

Businesses will have to be aware of the legal implications when dealing with statutory flexible working requests post-pandemic, according to an employment lawyer.

Marie Walsh: “It’s going to become increasingly difficult for employers to refuse requests."

Marie Walsh, an employment solicitor at Consilia Legal, said that there are certain grounds on which a company may decline a flexible working request.

This could be the burden of additional costs, a detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand and an inability to reorganise work among existing staff.

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However, the pandemic has made it “more and more difficult” for employers “to justify declining flexible working requests because it has been working for a year”, Ms Walsh said.

She added: “It’s going to become increasingly difficult for employers to refuse requests. That’s not to say that they can’t, they just have to be clear about why they are doing so.”

So far, Ms Walsh is seeing a more collaborative approach to flexi-working between employees and employers.

She said: “Instead of companies sticking to this statutory scheme and telling people to put their request in writing and going through the process, it’s become more of a collaborative ‘what would suit you’ approach and trying to accommodate that at this stage anyway.

“Whether it will go back to an adversarial ‘make your request and we’ll say no’ approach, I don’t know.”

Leeds-based Consilia Legal has itself started offering staff members the opportunity to work four-day weeks.

Ms Walsh said: “During the pandemic we had quite a lot of our staff approached to move. They were offered a lot more money.by the bigger firms.

“What we decided to do was give them time instead because we couldn’t compete with the salaries.

“We said we’ll keep your salary as it is, but you can have a day a week back. It’s gone down really well.”

The employment solicitor does not believe the Government can compel businesses to go back to office spaces due to the overheads and costs.

“Unless they did something pretty substantial with business rates, for example,” Ms Walsh said. “I think it would be very difficult for the Government to dictate that everyone goes back.”

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